Why Intolerance Runs So Deep In Peru

As evangelical hostility to proposed same-sex civil unions demonstrates, Peruvian society has yet to embrace its own government's rhetoric of tolerance and social inclusion.

Gay Pride in Lima on June 29, 2013.
Gay Pride in Lima on June 29, 2013.
Carlos Escaffi*


LIMA — This piece is motivated by the unusual, surreal and hostile march that several prominent evangelical groups in Peru recently promoted.

The May 3 protest along some of Lima’s central streets were similar to the far-from-venerable public trials during the Holy Inquisition that determined which sentence or torture was “best” to eradicate heresy. This time, demonstrators were condemning the idea of same-sex civil unions in our country.

In particular, the march opposed a bill proposed by legislator Carlos Bruce to allow civil unions between people of the same gender, which the judiciary has approved. Judges have already declared that “the project is not just viable in juridical terms, it also represents an essential expression of the fundamental rights to personal development, equality and non-discrimination.”

What, then, prompted the evangelicals’ objection? They are apparently chafing at one specific part of the bill that would allow partners in a civil union to enjoy joint property ownership, unless they decide otherwise.

Civil partners, according to this draft, would receive the same treatment and have the same rights as first relatives do, meaning they could visit their partner in the hospital or in prison. They could decide to initiate emergency surgery, receive food from their partners and acquire Peruvian nationality after two years of a civil union, if they’re foreign nationals.

Under the proposal, if one partner dies, the other could inherit the late partner’s estate. And when it comes to social security, the bill would allow an uncovered partner to be included as beneficiary in his or her partner’s health insurance plan.

Exclusion vs. inclusion

The march left me confused. I have difficulty understanding why and how such movements still exist in a country that claims to have an “inclusive” government concerned with eradicating discrimination, one that believes in freedom and equality. How can some parts of our society use freedom of expression and the right to protest only to recall the dark days of a religious orthodoxy that sought to correct idolatry, witchcraft, secret marriage among priests, bigamy, homosexuality, apostasy and other “damnable” conduct?

Thinking of the protesters’ insistent — if not outdated — arguments, I asked myself: Why don’t we see other kinds of demonstrations?

A march to rebuild the quake-hit city of Pisco, for instance, or one to fight child malnutrition in Huancavelica? What about protests against fatalities caused by reckless driving, domestic violence or the practices of hiding children from extra-marital relationships? Why not protest against bribes or disrespect to the police?

There are so many issues Peruvians could demonstrate against. Yet some of them have chosen to march not against, but in favor of, exclusion.

Anyone who tries to promote and implement real social inclusion in this country can expect to wait a good two generations, if not more, to see it happen. We clearly see an ample and deeply rooted reticence to it here.

In the end, we are still living in the sexist, intolerant and sanctimonious society of old times. This is a judgmental society excessively critical of others’ conduct, which might even justify its acts by saying this is all “God's will, because God Himself is a man.”

But when it comes to Divine Providence, let’s not forget what the Pope himself said, that we “should not condemn the divorced, and that the Church is no place for inquisitors.”

* Carlos Escaffi is a professor of international marketing at the University of Lima’s School of Business.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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